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Don’t Alienate the Over-50 Bunch. They’ve Got the Money.

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Male doctor looking concerned at older male patientAll too often marketing professionals unintentionally alienate one of the largest (and most financially significant) target audiences, the over-50 crowd. Maybe they didn’t mean to, but the 30-something marketing person just doesn’t have a clue about the true mindset of the 50-, 60- or 70-something person they want to reach.

We see this frequently when the well-intended marketing person needs a photo supposedly representative of a senior audience. They select a photo of a 70-year-old person to portray a 70-year-old audience. The trouble is 70-something individuals do not see themselves as “being that old.” Nowhere close.

In their mind’s eye they see a photo that might be their parent or some old person. That’s not them. The graphic doesn’t communicate, it doesn’t relate and/or it outright offends. (Heaven forbid you should refer to them as “elderly.”)

If “boomers,” “senior citizens,” “golden-agers,” or any other demographic label is a miss-understood pigeonhole, your marketing will likely turn away an audience of enormous size and considerable financial clout. By 2017, according to Nielson, nearly half the American population will be 50-plus, and they will control 70 percent of the disposable income.

Regardless of your precise chronological age today, nearly every adult’s own self-image is likely to be (at least somewhat) more youthful and capable than the stereotypical conception. Marketers are better advised to downplay any label and, instead, think about their interests and values. As a New York Times observer wrote, “Make it a point to address potential customers [in terms of] ‘stage of life’ and ‘lifestyle,’ but never talk about their age.”

The creative challenge: Communicate without Offending

The corporate and retail world has not done a good job in reaching this demographic group, according to Businessweek, where Aging Boomers Befuddle Marketers Aching for $15 Trillion Prize. “[For decades] the needs of older consumers have been largely ignored by youth-obsessed brand managers, marketers and product designers.

“That’s not to say there aren’t products targeted at the senior circuit—Depend undergarments, Fixodent denture cream, MedicAlert bracelets, even Swarovski crystal-studded walking canes. And who can forget LifeCall, made famous by the poor old woman who has ‘fallen and can’t get up’?

“The problem with those products—beyond the crummy ads—was that they highlighted and reinforced the debilitating effects of aging. They’re palliative in nature, tools to make the long goodbye a bit less painful. ‘Use them, feel old’ could be their slogan."

Your conception is probably wrong…or soon will be.

Do the math…how old will you be in the year 2050? In a little more than 30 years, 50-plus consumers will have increased more than 60 percent from 2010 to 161 million. (Yea, it sounds like a long way down the road, but trust me, it’s not.)

And between now and then, this demographic group (by whatever label), will continue to break stereotypes and preconceived typecasts. “Baby boomers, 8,000 of whom turn 65 each day in America, have reinvented each stage of life they’ve entered, from young adulthood to careers to parenting,” observes Businessweek. “And whether they’re working or retired, wealthy or on a fixed income, living alone or with other seniors, they aim to redefine what it means to be old.”

The take-away lesson for marketing professionals is that the over-50 population is large and financially empowered. Many continue working well past the traditional age 65, and have the ability to spend money on the things they want. (The peak age of vehicle buyers, as one example, moved to 55-to-64 in 2011.)

Effective marketing and advertising to reach and persuade this group, both now and in the future, requires a completely new perspective on reality. If you are continuing to play to what you imagine it to be, chances are that you have just alienated the most important group in your service area.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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